Over the Columbus Day Weekend, members from the Bill Wills, Southeast Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited got together for a trip to fish the waters of the Laurel Fork Special Management Area and the Jackson River.
Fishing the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area involves hiking in and out and the weather forecast for Sunday was full of rain so we opted to do the hiking on Saturday.
Andy had the day off so he made his way leisurely westward, stopping to sample the waters of the Bull Pasture River before arriving at the Locust Springs campground on the WV/VA border west of Staunton.
David and I met in Richmond at 8 pm, got jacked up on coffee, and blazed westward. We wanted to stop along the "Brew Ridge Trail" - at one of the craft breweries that populate the mountainous regions of western VA. We found our way to the Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton VA, entering at the stroke of 10pm. With the kitchen already closed and the employees sharing a well deserved capper, we implored the barkeep to serve us just one as I hastily purchased a 6-pack of their Full Nelson beer for streamside cheer. A nice tip loosened up the bartender's demeanor and we had a nice time talking with him while also planning our final leg of the trip into the deep woods of WV and the the Locust Spring primitive campground.
Back on the road, once we got past Monterey VA, the country roads were dark and full of deer so we slowed and picked our way carefully. We were concerned for Andy, alone in the middle of nowhere, as the hours ticked by - 11, 12, 1... We didn't arrive until about 2 am. I guess we made enough noise to wake him up because Andy crawled out of his warm tent to great us. We set up a second tent and quickly bedded down for the night.
Got up Saturday morning and it was cold and grey. Definitely looked like rain was in the forecast. We struck the camp. Andy made a big pot of coffee (THANK YOU!), and we each prepared a little something for breakfast and made or packed a lunch.
Our campsite at Locust Spring
Based on intel from the Warm Springs Ranger Station of the George Washington National Forest, we decided to hike down on the Locust Spring Run trail, fish the day, and then return on the Buck Run trail. We like the idea of checking out the fishing opportunity on Locust Spring Run early and then using the better (wide, even grade) Buck Run trail for our escape since it might be getting dark, raining, or otherwise dicey.
The Locust Spring Run trailhead was at the far end of the meadow where we had set up our tents. We decided to hike the trail in our waders and hit the trail at around 8 am.
At the trailhead...
The Locust Spring Run Trail
The Locust Spring Run is beautiful and it parallels the small creek all the way down to the Laurel Fork. The water level was down, but there was still plenty of small pocket pools that we thought would hold native brookies. I spotted fish in one and asked David to give it a go with his Tenkara rod. It was a beautiful thing - one cast, one fish!
David's Native Brookie from the Locust Spring Run
A beautiful, wild brookie
Andy applying stealth to his approach
Very different to our homes in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, the leaves on the trees seemed to be in peak color and there was lots of leaf litter underfoot and in the stream. Trout were hiding under the floating leaves and you had to accurately deliver small flies to the opening in the leaf clutter to hope to get a strike. It was pretty fun.
The beautiful Locust Spring Run
Because we could not pass up any likely holding water on the Locust Spring Run, I think it took us 3 hours to make it down the ~ 3 miles to the Laurel Fork.
The intersection of the Locust Spring trail and the Laurel Fork
What a beautiful River! David could not resist fishing the very first pool at the intersection.
David picking the pocket with the Tenkara rod.
While David fished, Andy and I got down to business finding an appropriately swift section of the river for which to stash our end-of-the-day celebratory libation.
These new Orvis packs come with a very handy pocket for essential supplies - a six-pack of Blue Mountain Brewery's Full Nelson beer.
Based on fishing reports we found we decided to head upstream towards the Slab Camp Run. We hop-scotched pools and runs as we worked upstream marveling at the scenery as we went. Most of the brookies were wild and palm-sized. We didn't care so much about the size. We were just happy to be fishing in such a beautiful area. Around each turn, we just went "Wow, look at that!"
David demonstrating the bow-and-arrow technique with the Tenkara rod
I was catching all my fish on a size 16 parachute Adams. (Note to self - next time tie the posts in some color other than white! White posts get lost in the white bubbles and foam) Moving above Slab Camp Run, I came across a nice pool, cast the fly in the seam, and a bigger brookie took the bait. As I got him close, the colors were incredible - the yellow and red spots, the brilliant orange of the belly, the in-your-face red/orange color and the distinct yellowish white epilets on the pectoral fins. Spectacular!
Many sections of the stream are bordered by rhododendron bushes. It's hard to imagine the Laurel Fork looking any prettier, but I'd like to go back in spring when they are in bloom.
Rhododendrons flank the Laurel Fork in many places
We rendezvoused back at the beer cache around 4 pm to give us plenty of time to hike out before dark. We shared a brew with some fellow trout fishermen and traded stories - the best way to end a good day on the stream.
David passing on Tenkara know-how
It was a pleasant 2 hour ride to meet up with our TU bretheren at Gene's cabin on the banks of the Jackson River. Gene, Bill, Gordon and CJ were waiting for us and Bill guided us through a Get Smart series of cattle gates, and past barking guard dogs, and mooing cows before the car could go no further. Inside we were treated to Gene's excellent barbecue, fruit salad and mini Butterfingers - Halloween candy came early! We talked story well into the night until the weight of our eyelids demanded penance. Sleep came quickly and easily.
Gene's cabin on the Jackson River
Gene was up first and made coffee. I was up at 6:30 and the rest soon followed. We sipped coffee, ate delicious apple doughnuts and talked somemore. After pleasantries, we got down to business planning our next day on the river. The temperature had dropped down to the mid-fifties and it had been raining all morning with promises of the same for the rest of the day. We decided to fish around the Poor Farm Road intersection with the Jackson River. The area had been recently stocked and the ability to drive right up to the river gave us a quick escape route if we got drowned out.
CJ lead us past Warm and Hot Springs to the stream access point.
Andy, David, and CJ on the Upper Jackson River
The scene that awaited us
The rain was only a sprinkle when we suited up. At this location, the Jackson was big and beautiful, with an abundance of falls, DEEP pools, long still runs, and complicated seams. It offered lots of possible tactical approaches. There were some large reddish brown caddis flying around - a "fall caddis" we were told. So instead of the Adams that worked so well on the Laurel Fork, I tied on a 14 tan caddis.
Andy working the seam
David couldn't pass up this section
With my tan caddis, I became the Chub King. Don't get me wrong, they were fun to catch and all, but we were looking for their trout cousins.
One of my loyal subjects
CJ guided me downstream and showed me a nice pice of the river where he'd spied a couple of big trout. I had cut my leader back and switched to a "slumpbuster" streamer dragging it through some head-high pools going for broke. I stripped it through CJ's pool and after a couple tries got a solid hook set. Boy was I surprised when I landed this smallmouth bass!
I guess the water was warmer than I had thought! Still, I ventured on in search of Salmo sp. enjoying the beauty of the river as I went.
My path crossed with David's and he hipped me to his success fishing a nymph as a dropper off a medium-sized Kaufman's stimulator. Shortly thereafter I did find a trout lair, and hooked 2 nice rainbows.
Several more chubs sacrificed themselves to the King, but I didn't care. I was fishing on a beautiful stream, rain or no.
I hooked one monster in a deep pool and his flash made my heart skip. I got him on the reel, he surged, and my 6X tippet went "blink". Damn! I know where he lives though, and I'll be back.
Thanks to the Bill Wills, Southeast VA Chapter of TU for putting on this trip for the members. I learned new waters, made new friends, had a great time, and can't wait to do it again.
April/May 2013 anyone?