Monday, February 17, 2014


Many of our Presidents have been outdoorsmen--Theodore Roosevelt, of course, being the shining example--and have done much to ensure the future of our sports.  Of course, that street is two-way.  With gun control issues looming and king's grants and private property owners swallowing up river miles across the country, some heads of state are more harmful to our natural resources than others.  In any case, in honor of President's Day and our Nation's most celebrated leaders, here is a throwback post from last November.  


        Many people have a favorite president.  I won’t say I do.  I have a love-hate relationship with Herbert Hoover.  Stock market crash aside, Hoover shared my love of the magnificent brook trout of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  However, this led to an exposé that made the Rapidan River, where Hoover built his cabin in 1929, one of the most popular trout streams in Virginia.  And for that, following a recent trip to the mountains, I pondered what the river might yield today if it weren’t for the press the president earned it.
        A light rain fell in the night.  Just like the day before, partly-sunny skies were forecast; but the sky forecast something different—heavy clouds, fog, and drizzle—typical November.  Under this cover, my brother and I loaded the truck with waders, rods, and daypacks, and headed north towards the Blue Ridge Mountains.
        After hiking a few miles through rugged country, we slipped down through an aged laurel thicket, over rocks and deadfalls.
        The river was in good condition, running full, thanks to recent rain.

Photo by Matt Reilly

        Water in the mid-50s, and overcast, drizzly weather had me searching for my favorite nymph pattern—the CK nymph.  I found the smallest, buggiest imitation, with stray hackle fibers and a meager body, and tied it on.

        With this weapon ready for action, I did my best to assume the role of a predator.  On hands and knees, I edged towards a sizeable boulder overlooking the tail of a promising pool.  The first cast landed somewhat sloppily in the current rushing past a smaller, undercut boulder.  Nothing.  I sent a second cast, more refined and floating, to the deep channel in the middle of the pool where the current began to relax. 

        My fly line hesitated in the current for a split second, and a raised rod tip excited a brilliantly-colored brook trout, maybe five inches long, and lifted him from the slick water.

        My reaction was fast, and my body warmed with the excitement of my first brook trout in several months of absence from the water.  I netted the fish, and admired his spawning colors—the white-banded fins bordered with black, the fiery belly, the red and blue bulls-eyes on his flanks, the marbled green back that makes him invisible from above.

        After releasing the fish, I moved on until I came upon a pool worthy of careful prospecting.  Water fell heavy into the head of the pool, as it was split in two by a sturdy boulder.  The water carved a two-foot deep pocket there, and ran out into the tail, after wrapping around an undercut rock submerged in the current.  I got into position.

        “There has to be a fish on that rock,” I thought.

        But as I was taught, I placed my first casts carefully in the tail of the pool, to avoid lining any cruising fish with the colorful fly line.  After meticulous picking, I focused on the rock that tugged at my attention.  Four casts, five, six, seven—nothing.  After several casts, the current gripped the line as it hovered over the rock, dragging my nymph into the undercut ledge.

        An underwater flash jolted the line!  My rod tip rose with my arm high into the air; and I sprung from my hiding place behind a log as war ravaged.

        I wiped my hands on my wader-covered thighs to moisten my hands, and guided the fish into them.  He went 11 inches, easy—11 and a half—almost 12 inches.  It was then, holding a veteran of the mountain stream, that I thought of Hoover, and those that enjoyed such bounty before I was here to do so myself. 

        It’s a foreign concept to many outside the world of fly fishing, to consider the gaunt brook trout of these small streams to be worth the energy, briar cuts, and twisted ankles they demand.  They’re precious gems in small, discreet packages; and it’s a testament to their allure that the most powerful man in America, living in relative proximity to the Adirondack trout streams, the wilderness streams of West Virginia, the spring creeks of Pennsylvania, and the steelhead of Lake Erie tributaries, chose a seemingly insignificant being in Appalachian Virginia to be his host in his home away from home. 

Photo by Matt Reilly
        After several brief seconds, I slipped the fish back into his icy domain.  He left my hand with a flick of his tail, as stately and as bold as the river tumbling down the mountain.  The spirit of such a fish cannot be tamed, not by the President of the United States, nor any that came after him; but its existence can be threatened, and I can rest easy knowing that the popularity of the Rapidan River has bred respect for its native trout.   

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