Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ROCK CREEK DREAMS

I awoke in the early morning hours to the clacking of bighorn sheep hooves on dry ground. Or was I going to sleep? I poked my head from my tent to find a gray haze hanging in the canyon, sheep no longer visible. Wisps of warm sunlight occasionally and increasingly found their way into the understory as I made breakfast of oatmeal and coffee to shove back the chill.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The woods are bright, in the Lolo National Forest, even behind a dawny veil. Amber trunks of lodgepole pines laced chocolate protrude heavenward in open groves amid a green forest floor. Cedar waxwings flit and chirp about them. Dramatic raveling mountains serve as their backdrop and hint at the presence of the as-yet unseen novelty of bighorns and the elusive mountain lions that prey upon them. A fawn wades through dew-wet grass as Rock Creek dances by joyously, singing to all with enough care to listen—the very same who notice the waxwings and the pines and find spiritual rejuvenation in them.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Now I hold no prejudices against eastern Montana, and the prairies and the mountains and their canyons that populate it. In fact, I’ve developed a rather strong infatuation with the crystalline, cold creeks that run there, and the willing trout who have seen and consumed live grasshoppers frequently enough to have developed a reckless appreciation for them. But it occurred to me among that awakening Eden that the landscape where I had pitched my tent the night before, in the western part of Big Sky Country just a few miles short of Idaho, was not created by God in the same motion. I’d be more inclined to believe that God promised Israel a homeland and then, in an act of fairness, did the same for fly fishermen.

    As such, Rock Creek and the Lolo National Forest is no secret among anglers. Before the sun establishes a clearly visible position above the canyon, the Creek’s banks will be lined by the God-fearing.

    I’ve carefully planned my sleeping for when I’m dead, though, and not in Montana. So before those warm wisps of sunlight became the majority and broke the canyon of night, I discovered by foot and gravel road a promising-looking stretch of water to explore.

    Before my eyes, a strong, tight run a hundred yards upstream flattened out into a rather flat tail, and rolled over in pockets over rock shelves. Current seams were a dime a dozen, each one strong in character and potential.

    Small cased caddis blanketed the cobble river bottom. I broke one open to discover a gray larvae inside, and then returned him to the water to find the stomach of a hungry trout. Spruce moths were hatching, leaving the firs and spruces to live another day, and dappling themselves on the river’s surface to restart their lifecycle and contribute to the fish’s.

    Taking visual cues, I rigged a large stimulator with a caddis larvae dropper and began stripping out line. Three false casts and an aerial mend laid a 40-foot length of line on the water, and the fly at the head of the nearest current seam.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The stimulator disappeared. It quickly reappeared as a feisty brown trout of about 14 inches leapt from the lie with my caddis in his mouth, then bore downstream against the flex of my modest four-weight.

    I released the brown safely, keeping his body in the water. Several dozen more casts yielded about half as many fish—a healthy mixture of shouldered browns, rainbows, and cut-bows. Each had a preference for the nymph, though one large brown, rising rhythmically, made a dash for the stimulator when it touched down inches in front of his nose.


    The fishing slowed as sunlight took over the visible scene. The moths disappeared, and so did the shadowy corners of pockets in the body of the river. It was then that I looked upstream to see a fisherman and his guide taking a casting vigil upon the upper reaches of the pool, along the whitewater in the head. Another team strung rods, shut the car door, and stepped into the river 40 yards below me. The world was finally awake, and the dream over, only to recur when once again the light fades to gray and the spruce moths come out to play, and I’m alone in the canyon, again, to dream.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

BACKCOUNTRY HUNTERS AND ANGLERS MOBILIZING IN THE CAPITOL REGION

A group of passionate outdoorsmen and Backcountry Huntersand Anglers (BHA) members gathered at the Backroom Brewery in Middletown, Virginia on Saturday, August 6 to discuss important public lands issues in the East and the formation of a local chapter to include Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. The group, unofficially dubbed the “Capital Region Chapter” of BHA, once voted into existence by the organization’s national board, would become the first chapter in the American Southeast.

Backpacking in the Monongahela National Forest, almost one million acres of forested habitat in WV, within a few hours' drive of D.C. Photo by Matt Reilly
    Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is an organization of sportsmen devoted to the conservation of our public lands, and the subsequent continuation of our outdoor heritage. Founded upon an appreciation for wilderness, BHA speaks for those who benefit spiritually from the opportunity to hunt elk on foot or horseback in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, spend a week fishing for smallmouth bass in the Boundary Waters, and stare into a fire miles from the nearest road and feel what true wilderness really is.

    BHA is an organization brawny by individual passion and, likewise, is effective only because of the existence of local chapters. “BHA's success is built on our boots-on-the-ground volunteers and members,” said BHA President, Land Tawney. “Not only do they have deep passion to carry on our traditions, but they also have an intimate knowledge of their place and what needs to be done to protect it.” As such passionate people mobilize, influence increases dramatically at the state level through interactions with state wildlife agencies, federal agencies, and officials.
    
    Until rather recently, all of those state chapters have been solely in the West, owing mostly to the fact that public lands come in much greater volume West of the Mississippi. “While the majority of public lands are found in the west, public lands in the east are just as important,” said Tawney. “It is imperative that BHA expand its reach in the east to not only influence policy at a national level, but to also make an impact on the ground to make sure we have access to local public lands and the fish and wildlife habitat found within.”

    It’s celebrating public lands in the East and taking a stand on the issues that oppose them that has James Revercomb, member at large (there are not official titles within the group, yet) and owner of Roanoke MountainAdventures, excited about the burgeoning chapter’s future. “There are lots of people in this part of the country who don’t utilize the public lands we have,” he said. “So it’s exciting to see people getting behind this in the East. The more people—the more interest—the better”

    The group’s meeting in Middletown, which was open to BHA members and non-members both, went fairly informally. Attendants started off telling hunting and fishing stories, but quickly became enraptured in discussion issues such as habitat fragmentation, poaching in D.C., off road vehicle land abuse, and the Sunday hunting ban on public lands.

    “The energy was great,” said Tom Hartland, another member at large and meeting attendee. “When you meet other BHA members, you already know they share the same values, and you get along great.” That energy is contagious and likewise growing. “Some people even overheard us talking and expressed interest in what we are doing,” said Hartland.

    Another meeting is being planned for early in 2017, but for the time being, the Capital Region BHA group hopes to grow its numbers with flyers and word of mouth. Interested members and non-members should visit the “Capital Region Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Members” Facebook page, and check out the BHA national page, www.BackcountryHunters.org. The BHA national board will come to a vote on the proposed Capital Region chapter in the spring.


    Despite the vast majority of public land being in the West, as Tawney pointed out, the public lands we have here in the East are just as important, and need boots-on-the-ground volunteers to protect them. It is clear that there is a substantial number of passionate backcountry hunters and anglers within the capital region. However, there is currently no established BHA chapter to harness that passion and potential influence. The establishment of the Capital Region BHA chapter will be a contribution of existing resources to the national voice of sportsmen who care about the management of our public lands, which uphold and serve as an arena for the passing on of our classic traditions of hunting and fishing.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

PROPOSED REGULATION CHANGES TO SOUTH RIVER FORETELL EVOLVING FISHERY

Thanks to the persistent, concerted efforts of local anglers, the South River Fly Shop, and the Shenandoah Valley Chapter of TroutUnlimited (SVTU), Waynesboro’s urban trout fishery currently awaits the August 18th Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) board meeting, where votes will be taken on two proposed regulation amendments that will alter the river’s fishing opportunities and potentially improve an evolving fishery.

South River Fly Shop guide Reed Cranford with a 25" brown from the South River Delayed Harvest Area.
    One amendment would replace the existing delayed harvest designation on two miles of river from North Park to Wayne Ave., with catch and release regulations.

    The second would adjust the existing 16-inch minimum size limit for trout and artificial lure-only restriction on the 5.5 miles of the South River Special Regulations Area, extending from the North Oak Lane bridge to a point 1.5 miles above Rt. 632 (the Shalom Road bridge), to a 20-inch minimum and a fly-fishing-only designation, more than doubling the amount of fly-fishing-only water in the state.

    Virginia’s delayed harvest system limits anglers fishing waters designated as such to artificial lures only, and requires catch-and-release, except for a window from June 1 through September 30 –when waters are too warm to hold stocked trout—when harvest is allowed and bait is permitted. So the question of delayed harvest versus catch-and-release year-round is dependent upon water temperature and quality.

    The proposed amendments’ position on DGIF’s schedule is a result of several years of advocacy from the local angling community, mobilized by SVTU and the South River Fly Shop. In 2012, the groups approached DGIF with the suggestion of making the proposed regulation adjustments to the South River. In defense of the existing delayed harvest management system, they were met with the argument that the river becomes too warm in the summertime to effectively hold over stocked trout populations.

    In response, SVTU and South River Fly Shop hatched a plan to mobilize their voice.

    “After a while, we decided to show public support by drawing up a proposal and getting signatures from anglers,” said Kevin Little, co-owner of South River Fly Shop. “That got us on [DGIF’s] radar.”

    Right on cue, in September of 2013, Tom Benzing of James Madison University presented at the Mountain Stream Symposium II a five-year (2008-2013)water temperature study of the South River aimed at assessing the river’s potential as a sustainable trout stream.

    In 2011, while the study was ongoing, Rife-Loth Dam, which was installed in 1884 above what is now Wayne Ave. and the upstream boundary of the South River’s delayed harvest stretch, was bulldozed.

    “The old dam was backing up and warming cold spring water coming in from upstream,” said Little. “And because it was a top-release dam, it was overflowing warm water.”

    Benzing’s study shows that the removal of Rife-Loth Dam restored normal daily fluctuations of water temperatures downstream, buffered by the restored influx of cold spring water. Furthermore, it proved that the water temperature from springs in and above downtown Waynesboro were suitable as thermal refuges for trout.

    In the spring of 2016, DGIF took notice.

    “There is a strong proposal in downtown for changing the delayed harvest designation to catch-and-release,” said DGIF Region 4 Fisheries Manager, Paul Bugas. “And we’re noticing increasing demand for more fly-fishing-only water.”

    After several years of static, this nudge from the public is getting DGIF on board.

    “We’ve sampled at the end of May and before stocking begins in October and found a good number of holdovers in downtown, which leads us to believe that some better holdovers under new regulations,” said Bugas. “We’re trying it.”

    Bugas also recognizes the potential benefits of the minimum length increase on the upper South River above North Oak Lane, which he says has few fish over 20 inches long, currently: “It will [essentially] make it illegal to take fish from an area that is still under development.”

An angler prospects the banks of the upper South River in the summer. Photo by Matt Reilly

    The debate over the appropriate regulations to spur growth in the trout fishery within the South River could be called unanticipated by those with historical perspective on the river. “If you told me in 1975 that we’d be haggling over trout regulations in downtown Waynesboro, I’d laugh in your face,” said Bugas. “Back in the ‘70s, a doctor from Virginia Tech was investigating fisheries downtown, and he found sunfish, a couple carp, and some suckers, and that was about it.”

    Needless to say, the folks that call the South River dear like the change they’re witnessing.
“This river could be every bit as good as the Elk River in West Virginia,” said Little, a West Virginia native, himself. “God alone did 90-percent of the work. We’ve just gotta’ do the 10-percent to finish it.”

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

OVER LAND AND WATER TO CRYSTAL POND

I make a habit of ending an adventure with a capper that’s worth the distinction.
Bow pointed towards Mt. Katahdin, headed for camp on Crystal Pond. Photo by Matt Reilly.
Whether it’s truly a conscious effort, or simply a last ditch attempt to milk the most opportunity from every day, I can’t say. Regardless, as the Independence Day weekend threatened to dewild the gravel roads of central Maine’s Baxter State Park with flatlanders and other vacationers, I had one such capper on my mind.

    From my point of view, the crown jewels of Maine’s interior are the countless remote brook trout ponds that play host to some of the last strong populations of native brook trout in the country. The 200,000-acre Baxter State Park serves only as a sample platter of these fisheries; thousands more exist throughout the region.

    One such pond had captured my imagination from the moment I got my hands on a map. For confidentiality’s sake, I’ll call it Crystal.

    A hike of about two and a half miles separates Crystal Pond from the nearest road, thinning the crowd of those not willing to work for their fun. Primitive camping is not permitted on the road-side of the pond. However, a few maintained primitive sites dot the shoreline opposite the trail’s terminus. 
A boat is required to reach them, thus thinning the crowds further. Luckily, in a phone call two days before, a friend revealed to me the combination to the canoe he, like many Mainers make a habit of doing on their favorite ponds, keeps on the banks of Crystal.

    According to pond survey maps, Crystal is quite large--as backcountry brook trout ponds go in the state of Maine—with one very prominent piece of shoreline structure. Halfway up the east bank is a long, skinny point, the tip of which, shot directly up the same bank to a similar point, marks a drop-off from four feet to almost 40 feet in depth.

    Stillwater brook trout are very structure-oriented creatures, and so having structural features like this drop-off present and easy to locate is a huge advantage to the angler.

    The weather had been unseasonably warm, bringing little rain. The famed Hexagenia mayfly hatch, which brings brook trout in numbers to the surface to feed on the giant, emerging insect, was proving to be a non-starter. So, depth chart in hand, canoe combination memorized, the romantic vision of my great New England capper drew me to the trailhead.

    For the majority of my New England expedition, I carried with me a Water Master Grizzly one-man pack raft (Read the review HERE), which comes in a dry bag built as a backpack for mobility. Not needing the boat, I emptied the backpack and refilled it with overnight, boating, and fishing gear, and hit the trail.

Canoe forest. Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Approximately an hour of navigating craggy ridges and buggy bogs placed me sweaty and fly-bitten on the banks of Crystal Pond, amid a glimmering canoe forest. Crafts of varying makes, colors and conditions lay strewn about the pine-needled forest floor. Some were chained to trees. Others were left unfastened by anything but a cultural expectation of respect. Mainers are serious about their canoes--Old Town canoes originating in Old Town, Maine--and the sight that greets hikers to Crystal Pond is hardly a novel one.

    I quickly found, among the dozens, the canoe whose use had been granted to me. Chained to two logs, each lashed perpendicularly as a makeshift rack to two pine trees, sat cradled a red canoe, faded to the point of being described as pink, and with so many patches along its hull as to make the original material the minority.

    Sliding the craft down off its rack, I loaded it with my gear and dragged it a short distance to a gravel bank along the pond’s shoreline. Mount Katahdin and Baxter Peak illustrated the skyline and threw its impression upon the glassy surface of the pond, moreover populated with the mini-peaks of partially submerged boulders.


    Twenty minutes of paddling landed the canoe’s stern squarely on my campsite. I made camp, ate a quick dinner, and repacked my gear for an evening’s fishing.

    The sun was falling behind Katahdin’s domineering figure by the time I reached with paddle the prominent point mid-pond. A few casts killed time before the pond’s surface was broken by the rising form of a brook trout to my right. A reflexive cast and a short strip of a muddler minnow through the ripple produced a quick strike, and strong 14-inch northern brookie was soon to hand.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Emerging rise-forms grew more numerous as light faded, and the song of the willowing loon bounced off the walls of a shrinking world. Soon the light of an early moon was all there was, save for me, the loons, and the brook trout, and the memory of my last day of summer in Maine.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

OVER LAND AND WATER TO CRYSTAL POND

I make a habit of ending an adventure with a capper that’s worth the distinction.
Bow pointed towards Mt. Katahdin, headed for camp on Crystal Pond. Photo by Matt Reilly.
Whether it’s truly a conscious effort, or simply a last ditch attempt to milk the most opportunity from every day, I can’t say. Regardless, as the Independence Day weekend threatened to dewild the gravel roads of central Maine’s Baxter State Park with flatlanders and other vacationers, I had one such capper on my mind.

    From my point of view, the crown jewels of Maine’s interior are the countless remote brook trout ponds that play host to some of the last strong populations of native brook trout in the country. The 200,000-acre Baxter State Park serves only as a sample platter of these fisheries; thousands more exist throughout the region.

    One such pond had captured my imagination from the moment I got my hands on a map. For confidentiality’s sake, I’ll call it Crystal.

    A hike of about two and a half miles separates Crystal Pond from the nearest road, thinning the crowd of those not willing to work for their fun. Primitive camping is not permitted on the road-side of the pond. However, a few maintained primitive sites dot the shoreline opposite the trail’s terminus. 
A boat is required to reach them, thus thinning the crowds further. Luckily, in a phone call two days before, a friend revealed to me the combination to the canoe he, like many Mainers make a habit of doing on their favorite ponds, keeps on the banks of Crystal.

    According to pond survey maps, Crystal is quite large--as backcountry brook trout ponds go in the state of Maine—with one very prominent piece of shoreline structure. Halfway up the east bank is a long, skinny point, the tip of which, shot directly up the same bank to a similar point, marks a drop-off from four feet to almost 40 feet in depth.

    Stillwater brook trout are very structure-oriented creatures, and so having structural features like this drop-off present and easy to locate is a huge advantage to the angler.

    The weather had been unseasonably warm, bringing little rain. The famed Hexagenia mayfly hatch, which brings brook trout in numbers to the surface to feed on the giant, emerging insect, was proving to be a non-starter. So, depth chart in hand, canoe combination memorized, the romantic vision of my great New England capper drew me to the trailhead.

    For the majority of my New England expedition, I carried with me a Water Master Grizzly one-man pack raft (Read the review HERE), which comes in a dry bag built as a backpack for mobility. Not needing the boat, I emptied the backpack and refilled it with overnight, boating, and fishing gear, and hit the trail.

Canoe forest. Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Approximately an hour of navigating craggy ridges and buggy bogs placed me sweaty and fly-bitten on the banks of Crystal Pond, amid a glimmering canoe forest. Crafts of varying makes, colors and conditions lay strewn about the pine-needled forest floor. Some were chained to trees. Others were left unfastened by anything but a cultural expectation of respect. Mainers are serious about their canoes--Old Town canoes originating in Old Town, Maine--and the sight that greets hikers to Crystal Pond is hardly a novel one.

    I quickly found, among the dozens, the canoe whose use had been granted to me. Chained to two logs, each lashed perpendicularly as a makeshift rack to two pine trees, sat cradled a red canoe, faded to the point of being described as pink, and with so many patches along its hull as to make the original material the minority.

    Sliding the craft down off its rack, I loaded it with my gear and dragged it a short distance to a gravel bank along the pond’s shoreline. Mount Katahdin and Baxter Peak illustrated the skyline and threw its impression upon the glassy surface of the pond, moreover populated with the mini-peaks of partially submerged boulders.


    Twenty minutes of paddling landed the canoe’s stern squarely on my campsite. I made camp, ate a quick dinner, and repacked my gear for an evening’s fishing.

    The sun was falling behind Katahdin’s domineering figure by the time I reached with paddle the prominent point mid-pond. A few casts killed time before the pond’s surface was broken by the rising form of a brook trout to my right. A reflexive cast and a short strip of a muddler minnow through the ripple produced a quick strike, and strong 14-inch northern brookie was soon to hand.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Emerging rise-forms grew more numerous as light faded, and the song of the willowing loon bounced off the walls of a shrinking world. Soon the light of an early moon was all there was, save for me, the loons, and the brook trout, and the memory of my last day of summer in Maine.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"STILL"

Time machines have as of yet not been invented, but cars have a century been in popular utilization, and I have found them to aptly serve a similar purpose, without sacrificing the experiential value in “getting there.” Given the right route, one can hop in a car, drive a few hours, and find themselves in the midst of a culture minutely varied, but so as to suggest the loss of a few decades of what they call forward progress. I have found this to be true of most routes leading out of Megalopolis and adjacent developments and into the North Woods.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    It’s commonly said that life is slower in the south, but I’d offer New England as more qualified for the classification. A northerly latitude lengthens days in the summer, and fewer people and less development breeds fewer distractions from some of the last remaining expanses of true wilderness left on the East Coast. A sporting culture permeates deeper in the day-to-day, compared to its relative absence in more urbanized localities.

    One such route recently transported my time machine and I to a township called Second College Grant, or “The Grant,” as it is referred to by citizens of nearby Errol, New Hampshire and others geographically related.

    With a population of zero, The Grant is more of a resource investment than a town. In 1807, its 27,000 acres were donated to Dartmouth College. Thereafter, the property has been actively logged to provide scholarship funds for students, and well-managed for public outdoor recreation. As such, it carries all the time-ago drama of a working northern forest.

    Unless you happen to be one of the oft-manipulated, Dartmouth-associated gate key-bearers, the gravel road that traverses the property is restricted to foot-travel. Therefore, much of the interior remains rugged wilderness.

    The Grant’s main road parallels the Dead Diamond River, which is the largest unstocked native brook trout stream in the state, and plays host to some of New Hampshire’s last remaining mythically proportioned brook trout.

    The river still has brook trout, but not like they’ve been written about finning the dark pools of the river in centuries past. Recent years have seen the illegal introduction of smallmouth bass in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge downstream, and the resultant invasion of the bass upstream into brookie territory.

    Black bear, moose, deer, squirrels, and various other creatures thrive on the property. One could argue that active logging keeps up a healthy population of grouse, individual members of which seem to be so isolated as to be relatively unafraid of approaching humans, and which mystify my upland bird-deprived Virginia sensibilities upon every encounter.

    “Our grouse situation is still pretty good,” are the words that ground me.

    Another route took my time machine even further into the past.

    Kokadjo, Maine is a town of a trading post with one worker, no gas station, and a famous brook trout and salmon stream. KOKADJO. POP: NOT MANY are the words that greet the traveler, and I fear the plurality of the word “many” might be a subtle overstatement.

    13 miles by logging road north of Kokadjo sits a small homestead of old sporting camps on SpencerPond, owned by husband and wife—Dana Black, a registered Maine guide and lobsterman, and Christine Howe, also a registered Maine guide with an environmental education and a history with the EPA.

    That I ended up on their doorstep was by chance and grace, but I quickly found that my time machine had done its job satisfactorily. Among the Spencer Pond Camps, there is no electricity or running water. Just kerosene lanterns, a wood stove, a well pump, and a solar bag for washing behind the ears as is often necessary when bushwhacking through northern forest as I do every day, these days. And so there is room to wonder about the way life used to be and other things of rival romance.

    Between the camps and the closest incorporated establishment sit thousands of acres of “big woods,” complete with unnamed, walk-in brook trout ponds, and a population of bear and moose that easily outnumbers people.

    In talking about fishing, Dana, who is learning the art of fly fishing, told me of the brook trout pond fishing in the area.

    “Maine still has pretty good pond fishing for brook trout,” he said.


    Maine is widely held as our nation’s last foothold for vital populations of native brook trout, and so it struck me that I had been encountering the word “still” a little too often, and it made me nervous. To paraphrase the great conservationist, Aldo Leopold, given the chance to go forward or go fishing, I’d quickly choose fishing, but I fear the world is developing in the opposite direction.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

RIVERS I WON'T WRITE

I hate calling fly shops. It takes a remarkable quantity of suppression to overcome my do-it-yourselfing nature and query a local expert for directions to success on foreign water that they’ve come about the hard way. And yes I know that’s what they’re there for.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The bulk of it is that my transient identity as a writer makes the dilemma all that much worse. I regularly set people straight on my life’s priorities—I’m an outdoor writer, which means I’m an outdoorsman first, a writer second. I’ve expended a substantial number of days--relative to my age--putting boots on the ground; finding the out-of-the-way, hidden spots that fish all the better for it; putting people on fish; and going out of my way to make sure those special places remain little more than carefully-crafted vignettes reserved for close conversation. What this more or less boils down to is that I have a darn-near medical aversion to shedding light on secrets, on pieces of this beautiful Earth somehow not already run over by human meddling, and to stepping on the feet of those locals who appreciate those spots on a regular basis or make their living revealing them to others in confidence.

    But, until I make the professional leap into the pool of the latter type of individual, who I have profound respect for, I resort to making money off of words and photographs of waters. A little ironic, isn’t it?

    I have a formula.

    This summer, the destinations I’ve chosen to write about are the furthest things from secrets I could find without writing the article another writer wrote for last month’s edition. The prime locations require a good deal of footwork to access, with the hopes that those willing to invest sweat are the kind to respect and protect the resource. However, though there may be plenty of existing information, I’m almost as allergic to writing about places I haven’t experienced thoroughly as I am giving away secrets. So, I spend my working days on the water taking photographs, flipping over rocks, fishing, and taking notes on said water, and my after/off hours fishing the places nearby that don’t have established fishing pressure and that I won’t tell you about.

    So yesterday I called the fly shop. With more than ten miles of water, not including tributaries, to check out in four days, I needed a logical place I could start with some kind of confidence. I talked to the young guy on the other end of the line like I knew him, because, at least as a fly shop worker, I did.

    “Don’t tell me any secrets, but do you have any suggestions as to good water on the…?”

    The question’s prefix is a formality. Having worked in a fly shop, I can say with confidence that you don’t give away any kind of true secret to a customer unless you’re on a first-name basis with their entire living family and attended some of their late relatives’ funerals. But you have your good information that a customer can tank to the bank and finish the day with fish-slimy hands. The young guy responded in such a way.

    The positive thing about out-of-town and first-time-on-this-piece fishing pressurers is that they live the tourist effect. You know the kind. Like how Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello may be the most popular spot in all of Charlottesville, but as locals, we have our own favorite haunts. What’s more, tourists sometimes randomly happen upon local gems that even some locals didn’t know about. It’s a real grab-bag, and there’s notable room for varying first impressions that either will, or won’t draw them back.

    And so it is with rivers and fishing them for the first time, and reporting on them, as I do. One day spent on a piece of water hardly serves as an accurate representation of a fishery. In the absence of streamflow gauges, you can’t precisely discern normal flow, water clarity, or temperature, and you surely don’t know where the best fish are, but you’ll go to Monticello until you realize you can get more Charlottesville elsewhere.

    So I invest as many days as I can to get a picture of the fishery for myself (however accurate it may be), and use that picture to qualify the opinions of local experts, guides, fly shop workers. There is no room for dishonesty in journalism.


    Thus, in fishing, I resort to cherry-picking, running-and-gunning, and pausing to put my time in where I think I should. That is, for now, and you may read about those rivers. But this time tomorrow I’ll be getting off an unnamed creek I spied on my way back to camp yesterday, with a head full of stories from rivers I won’t write.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian