We left South Hampton Roads at 12:30 for the drive to Harrisonburg, VA. It's amazing once you get past Williamsburg how easy the travel is! We had great conversation and listened to mountain tunes as the miles ticked away. Crossing the Blue Ridge on Rt. 64 provides spectacular views.
As we went, we were intently surveying all the streams that crossed our path. Three days of constant and pouring rain rain early in the week had left everything we had seen like a fast flowing river of chocolate milk. And yet, we had faith.
We made it to Harrisonburg at just past 4 pm so we decided to hit the Mossy Creek Fly Shop to ogle at their fine selection of equipment and fly tying materials (1790 E Market St #92, Harrisonburg, VA 22801; http://www.mossycreekflyfishing.com/). We purchased a few things including the materials needed for a black sculpin pattern that we thought we'd tie up for the occasion.
We had a nice conversation with Brian Trow, co-owner of the shop and guide service with his brother Colby. John Fall with Distinction Magazine showed up and we talked excitedly about the next day's fishing. Brian informed us that they hadn't gotten as much rain as forecast so the rivers would be off-color, but fishable - especially with streamers - perfect for targeting larger fish! The off-color water also provided the advantage of letting us get closer to the stream without being detected by the fish.
After a while, we headed over to the Stonewall Jackson Inn (http://www.stonewalljacksoninn.com) where we would be staying for the night. The Inn was built in the 1880s and was one of many large grand homes that populated E. Market Street. It's a beautiful place and Mimi, our host, was a delight. David and I got the east facing room (the "Grant" room), stowed our stuff, and joined John on the back patio for some beers and good conversation peppered with pictures of fish.
At around 7 pm we rendezvoused with the crew, Michael Wood from Dogwood Black (a custom shirt production and bow tie company: dogwoodblack.com/), John Fall, Brian and Colby Trow, Jessica our photographer, and David and I, for dinner at the Local Chop and Grill House (http://www.localchops.com). The food was out of this world with some of the best scallops I've ever tasted! Go there! Everything on the menu we had got rave reviews! Lots more great conversation later, spiritually and physically full, we retired back to the Inn.
Thinking of the fun to be had, I could barely sleep, and got up early the next morning to catch the rising sun in the backyard of the Inn.
With its spacious yard, it would be an excellent place for a family reunion, summer party, or other gathering. All you JMU moms and dads, check it out!
David joined me, we raided the kitchen for some wake up juice, we set to tying some of the sculpins Brian had recommended.
We dressed them in black and David dubbed the creation the Stonewall sculpin!
We had a fantastic breakfast at the Inn and then met up with everyone at the Mossy Creek Fly Shop.
Our first stop was a stretch of water near the Mossy Creek Lodge (http://www.mossycreekflyfishing.com/streams/private-water/the-lodge.aspx)
Brian Trow guided us, gave us flies, and tips to fish the stream and within no time we had fish on. This stream is loaded with quality wild fish. Some of the rainbows were post-spawn and still impressive even with washed-out colors. The browns were chunky!
Fishing streamers and 0X tippet, Brian had to remind us to set the hook well and keep a tight line so that the barbless hooks would not come unbuttoned! We lost a few fish before we got the hang of it.
The pastoral setting of these private Mossy Creek waters was spectacular and we couldn't have asked for better guides or weather. I've been fly fishing for close to 40 years, but Brian taught me many new things. His intimate knowledge of the stream and its ecosystem, of the fish lies, of proper approach, casting, and line management gave me insights to make be a better angler - and he's a fun guy to be with too!
This is a pretty common wild brown football on the private waters.
Wading bird footprints on the soft mud banks underscores the protected habitat and superior management of these private access areas. When the weather warms up, the banks will be covered with vegetation.
Here's David fishing for the "bridge troll"! He pulled one out of the cover of the shadows.
For me, this was the killer fly of the day, the Trow brothers creation - the "Critter-mite". This fly was getting it done all day long! Buy some as soon as you can get your hands on them! They're in short supply!
They would also make a dynamite smally fly too!
We moved to a new stream section, had a catered lunch streamside, and then continued to fish. I was swinging the critter-mite through deeper pools and along undercut banks and picking up fish. We were having the best day!
To change things up an see more water, we moved again to a different spring creek. It was getting later in the day and the wind was picking up forecasting some impending weather. The Trow brothers took us to this spot on Beaver Creek where a set of riffles dumps into a deep broad pool in hopes we might find some dry fly action. Brian rigged up a caddis fly on top with a psycho nymph dropper. Due to the fast running water, we needed more depth so Brian then added a second nymph, a caddis pupa, to get down to the fish. More lessons on how to fish the stretch, reach casts, and mending lines were all appreciated.
I had one fish porpoise after the caddis dry, but miss. I caught a fall fish on the psycho nymph. Shortly thereafter, I landed what is probably my biggest brookie ever - a fine 15" specimen! A few more casts, and then the caddis submerged. I was late to set the hook and had to remind myself to do a 6X hook set, not a 0X hook set! The line moved away not too fast, but then Brian reminded me we had not yet seen the fish and not to get too cavalier. After about a minute we both saw a flash of the broadside and we both gasped #$&&@! I played this lunker for about 5 minutes and did my best to smoothly palm my no-drag reel. On about the fourth set of runs and returns, just as I was getting the fish close to shore and the net, the fly popped out. Ouch!
Brian consoled me as a good guide would, but we both left that run with some heavy regret!
Nearing 5 pm, we moved down to one last run. Here we were greeted by the pool overlord!
David caught a nice fish along this run and I pulled out a small brown myself.
It was time to head back to the vehicles, but Brian wanted me to plumb that first pool one more time with a Kreelex fly
(http://www.mossycreekstore.com/Brass-Eyed-Kreelex-00001.htm). Within minutes, I saw a nice fish chase it to the shore before the pickup. Following Brian's lead, I made a few progressive casts out into the main channel. On the last cast, a fish grabbed the fly as soon as it hit the water and put a deep bend in the 5-weight. Brian reminded me to put a good "0X" hook set on and we were off to the races. This lunker rainbow jumped at least 4 times. David got the whole thing on video. We finally got him into the net and there was much rejoicing all around! What a beaut!
I can't say enough about our day thanks to John Fall at Distinction Magazine, Mike at Dogwood Black, and the boys at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. It was a trip I'll long remember and we couldn't have asked for better or more fun guides as we found in the Trow brothers. Book them and you'll have the time of your life! I can't want to meet up with them again for a smallmouth bass float trip!
Look for more photos and the rest of the story in the upcoming edition of Distinction Magazine (www.distinctionhr.com) and on David's blog: http://myleakywaders.blogspot.com/.