Wednesday, July 10, 2013


    It was quite an experience sitting on Florida’s Gulf coast as a tropical storm delivered inch after inch of inundating rain.  When I returned home, the effects of the same system were tailing out, but the rain continued.

    Thus, when making fishing plans for the weekend, options were limited.  As I motored over the Rivanna River, its chocolaty-orange lifeblood running several feet high ruled the smallmouth haunts out.  My mind wandered to trout.

    One of the beautiful characteristics of freestone mountain streams is their ability to filter water, offering fishability even after heavy rains.

    Noted especially for its angling quality following torrential weather is the St. Mary’s River.  And so preparations began.

    I made the return trip from a family function early Saturday morning, with the windows down, enjoying the cool, cloudless weather.  Even the truck’s dash thermometer read 78 degrees—a cool spell by Virginia’s trending temperatures.

    My brother was waiting for me at home; and I unpacked and repacked as quickly as possible.
Having no idea what to expect, we left the house with packs complete with medical supplies; food, water, and bug dope; camera; GPS; and, of course, fishing gear.

    An hour on the highway dropped us into the small town of Greenville.

    The St. Mary’s River traverses a wilderness area by the same name.  At 10,090 acres, surrounded by the George Washington National Forest, it would seem that those undertaking the challenges offered by the Saint Mary’s Wilderness would be few.  Contrarily, the wilderness attracts many hikers and swimmers, many claim, because of pristine waters and waterfalls, and the delicacy hinted at through its name.

    But these wilderness-goers often remain within a short distance of their vehicles, and a little sweat and a few brier cuts will separate the adventurous from the cliff-dwelling canonballers.
Photo by Phillip Morone

    The St. Mary’s Falls trail is fairly well maintained, but meanders across the river occasionally.  If begin wondering whether you’re actually on the trail, retrace your steps and look for more obvious routes.  

    Because of the heavy traffic below the falls, there are several worn-down “shortcuts,” which may become seriously dangerous in an instant.

    Upon surpassing the mass, we rigged our rods— my brother with a beetle, and I with a cricket pattern.
With packs shouldered and rods rigged, we were faced with a gorgeous stream—pristine and pure as its name.  White frothing torrents poured unrestrained from the head into the heart of each pocket, carving a deep bowl and scattering oxygen bubbles like tiny shards of broken glass down into the turquoise depths.

Photo By Phillip Morone
Such waters, when stumbled upon, make the heart flutter; and the first contact with the dazzling fish of green and orange and white that is the native brook trout is a humbling experience each and every time.
The both of us experienced that excitement within the first pool.  For my brother, Phillip, it was his first—the first of many.

    Leapfrogging each other in the normal fashion, we continued catching brookies in almost every run, riffle, and pool.

    For sport, I swapped my terrestrial for a dry fly.

    The largest fish were always five to six inches, until I got a wave from Phillip upstream, who had just plucked a “three-incher” from a run, spooking a larger specimen downstream.

    With a searching drift, my fly rose the fish from a shallow riffle, and I brought the “9” (inches) to hand.
After taking that fish and several others of slightly smaller size from similar water, my attention turned to smaller pockets. 

    The next bend in the river revealed a chain of riffles, and after studying them for a few minutes my eyes landed on a bobbing, dun-colored nose.  After sipping at the surface, the flaming, white-tipped fins returned to the pebbly bottom, only to bounce and carry the nose skyward for a meal.
A beautiful mountain brookie from a beautiful mountain
brook.  Photo by Phillip Morone.

    Guiding my fly carefully on course, I solicited another rise, only to strike too early, and spook the trout for good.  Such is the nature of trout fishing.

    Soon the pocket water tapered out and gave way to shallow riffles.  The canopy receded and gave way to lowland flora.  Friendly waxwings flitted playfully about.

    More fish were caught, and we had many chances ahead, further up the mountain.  But the sun was beginning to sink past the canyon’s surrounding peaks, and, as we were unfamiliar with the hike, we turned back in the interest of safety.

    After reveling in its bounty only once, the St. Mary’s Wilderness revealed itself to me as a place worthy of protection.  I would urge all who fish its waters to return anything caught, and to leave no trace.  What enjoyment, and creatures, we reap from the environment is a renewable resource as long as we remain responsible stewards of the wilderness.

Originally Published in the Rural Virginian

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