Friday, February 5, 2016


Under normal circumstances, creeks, rivers—bodies of water—usually give sufficient warning before they reveal themselves to a wandering angler. An analytical eye on the terrain while driving slowly towards a perceived destination, chest leaning slightly up on the steering wheel, is all it takes—unless you’re in the downtown district of a major city.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Looking down at the water from the overgrown and crumbling parking lot of an abandoned building, I wasn’t surprised I had almost missed it. A small freestone creek, no wider than 10 feet across, gushed over river rock 10 feet down in a gully that navigates a hodgepodge of residential lots, industrial facilities, and businesses. Even the short bridge that I drove over failed to harness enough of my attention to signal the proximity of the stream.

    My mind questioned by what device there could be a viable population of wild trout occupying the water below. Machine shops, abandoned car washes, and other impenetrable surfaces bordered the stream’s course for miles, surely keeping it stocked with a hefty supply of automotive chemicals and other pollutants. Lawns and roads took up the remainder of the immediate bank, contributing still more chemical pollutants, as well as novel trash items like pizza boxes, onion sacks, and wire fencing.

    “There’s no way,” I thought.

    Still, the creek had a reputation for fish, and so I returned to my car, and suited up.

    Fishing a favorite double nymph rig, my first cast landed in the head of a small run that spanned the width of the creek. Within a few seconds of hitting the water, the fly line stopped suddenly, and a quick hook set pulled a bottle rocket from the white water and sent it careening downstream. I let slack line slide from my line hand, and started my downstream chase.

    My opponent’s energy was running out, and I had him folding under the influence of my long rod in the tail of a long run. Guiding his head towards me on a short line, I plunged my net underneath its form and scooped.

    What superficially appeared to be a roadside ditch creek, accented by the occasional oxygenating riffle, had rewarded my preliminary effort with a sizeable wild rainbow, taping at about 15 inches—one I’d be proud to have pulled from even some of the larger streams and creeks in the vicinity.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” passed through my mind, prompting me to take a more critical look at the water. Small patches of water cress colored the bank in a few spots. Tree cover was marginal at best. If the cress did indeed indicate the presence of springs throughout the creek’s course, they play an important role in keeping the stream cool year-round. Still, though, I couldn’t rationalize the success of the wild trout population in front of me when considering the chemical and domestic pollution I can all but guarantee plague the water quality.

    “Maybe it’s a fluke,” I thought.

    An hour and a half later, after catching 12 small to average wild rainbows in a single run under the confused gaze of two brothers playing catch with a football in their backyard, the thought that my first fish was a “fluke” had fled my mind and dissipated into the background traffic noise.

    The brothers’ own house caught my eye as I glanced upstream, planning my next attack. From the back door of the house, concrete steps descended to ground level where they met a large concrete slab, presumably the foundation of the house itself. The tip of the structure extended into the water along the bank, catching a short pocket of water in its tail and creating a dynamic eddy.

    My formal training on the Shenandoah Mountains’ brook trout streams has made it near impossible for me to pass up such a lie, even for its small size. From head to tail, the pocket was no more than two feet long.

    My nymph found its head and stopped abruptly. My rod doubled on the hookset, the captured yielding no ground. A long, brown back breached, facing upstream, and kicked itself out of the pocket to roll downstream with two labored fans of its tail.

    Positioned for the cast sharply downstream, I kept my rod tip high, handled my net, and waded to midstream to collect the trout on its run downstream. The battle expired shortly, as I had current and tool working for me, and the weight of a brown trout of about 18 inches sagged in the silicone basket of my landing net.

    As I ungloved my hands to handle the fish, I glanced nervously upward at the house towering over me. I can be a nervous guy in the city, but for fish, I can make an exception.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginia


Luis Fisher said...

A nice story! just found out your blog, I love it!

Matt Reilly said...

Thanks, Luis! If you're ever in Southwest Virginia, hit up Appalachian Trail and Outfitters in Marion, Va. and come fish with us!

All the best,