Friday, May 15, 2015


Last weekend, while camped beside a river in southwest Virginia with the guys--a bachelor party for one of my good friends--I made the overly sarcastic comment that "brook trout only eat flies #16 and smaller."  It should be well known that I regularly fish nothing smaller than a #12.  Ironically, it was during my first week back from college that I put any imagined sliver of legitimacy belonging to that philosophy to the chopping block and slashed it for good.

Photo by Matt Reilly.

    It was a mild day for mid-May--the kind that begins and ends with a sweater and only reminds you of summer as you're hiking to or from a fishing spot.  The water in the Shenandoah National Park streams was low.  It seems that just as we began praying for the end of twice-weekly downpours and the salvation of the smallmouth spawn, our prayers were answered.

    I was fresh home from my first semester at Emory & Henry College, and wanted to waste no time in reacquainting myself with the brook trout of Shenandoah that I had missed during my time there.  The parking lot at the bottom of a favorite mountain hollow, and the hoard of cars that were parked sloppily over boulders and oak roots, welcomed me home like a front door mat.

    Summer showed its warm face as I hoofed it up the trail, determined to out-sweat the flock of visitors.  

    After an hour of walking I set into my groove.  Stimulator.  5X tippet--wait, low water.  6X tippet.  Dozens of average brook trout were coming to hand.

    About two hours before sunset I came upon a long, deep pool.  The head was tight, issuing a two foot wide current down the far bank, tight against a sharp rock ledge.  I could see a few crevices in the rock along the bottom that looked exceedingly fishy.  Grass draped over the rock.  

    Almost instinctively I changed my attractor dry fly for a dense foam hopper pattern.  I checked my backcast--clear--and rolled out a long, overpowered (to created a "plop" with the fly) cast.  Without hesitation, a 10-inch stud of a brook trout rose and sipped the fly from the near seam.

Photo by Matt Reilly.

    I netted the fish carefully, eyes firmed fixed on the target--its head.  As I slipped the fish head-first into the rubber basket, I noticed something in its gullet.  After removing my fly, I probed with my hemostats, and removed a five-inch-long piece of flesh, which I can only surmise to be a small eel.  On top of that, was a large black ant--perhaps a half inch long.  

Photo by Matt Reilly.

    I laughed, knowing fully the veracious appetite of a brook trout, and had to save the evidence in a picture.  For not only had the fish eaten an eel roughly half the length of its own body, within the previous few minutes, the same fish had also eaten a large ant and my beefy hopper.  Now that's a hungry fish!  The evidence suggests that as even these fish, which are typically smaller than 10 inches, get bigger, they become more and more reliant upon meat and large prey.  Use that knowledge while fishing, and you'll see an increase in the number of big fish caught.

    Tight lines. 

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