Brown Bagging it For Shenandoah Brook Trout
Mark D. Wittman / Sportsmens Compass Contributing Member/Guru
I love fishing for brook trout in mountain streams. For me, it’s about the journey to get there, the hiking, the wildlife, the wildflowers, the smells and sounds of the forest, the unspoiled places. I like to keep it simple, a short rod and reel (you don’t even need that if you are into Tenkara), a small box of flies, a few odds and ends and a pair of hiking boots. If this simple form of fly fishing appeals to you and you don’t have a ton of cash to spend on travel, you should consider “brown bagging” it in the Shenandoah National Park.
The SNP has a wealth of small stream opportunities all located off the scenic Skyline Drive in Virginia, one of the most beautiful stretches of roadway in the east. The Shenandoah National Park is a day’s drive from almost anywhere in the east with lots of options for lodging and meals. There is a $20 fee to enter the park that provides access to the park for a week. Camp sites are available at the Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, and Loft mountain campgrounds in the park for $20/night (SNP campgrounds). The campgrounds are well maintained and have coin operated showers and laundry facilities in them. The wayside areas carry camping gear, food, gas, and firewood. If you want to spend a little more there are rooms ($120-178/night) and cabins ($140/night) available in the Lewis Mountain campground and the Big Meadows and Skyland lodges. My personal favorite is the lodge at Big Meadows. This historic lodge was completed in 1939 and is constructed with local stone and wormy chestnut. The lodge has a dining room that serves locally sourced meals at reasonable prices. The great room in the lodge is an ideal place to take a break and read and there is wifi access.
There is no need to hire a guide, just pick and area and go explore. Trail head parking is located right off the Skyline drive, providing access into the endless number of hollows. The hikes range from short descents to longer loops. But don’t let the modest elevation of the mountains here fool you, the hollows can be steep and rugged, providing an amazing backdrop to fishing within this park. A couple of my favorite trails are Dark Hallow falls to the Rose River trail (parking between milepost 50/51) , the Rose River loop (Fisher’s Gap mp 49/50), President Hoover’s historic Camp Rapidan via the Mill Prong trail (Milam Gap mp53), and the White Oak Canyon trail (mp 43). Trail maps with trail descriptions are available at the ranger stations in the park or online (trail maps).
You won’t find big fish by anyone’s standard but what they lack in size they will more than make up for in beauty and spirit. Most of the fish average in the neighborhood of 6-8inches, with a larger one here and there but they are a lot less common. In my limited experience (fishing in the spring), you will find an abundance of fish and most every plunge pool will give up one or two fish unless someone as fished through ahead of you. If you keep moving and fish all the potential pockets, you should have plenty of opportunity to observe these magnificently beautiful fish up close so don’t forget to bring your camera along. My tactics are pretty simple, I usually start with an elk hair caddis or Royal Wulff and trail a weighted nymph roughly 18inches off the hook bend. With this rig you can figure out pretty quick what the fish are interested in. Be advised, you need to be ready and alert if you want your hookup rate to be north of 50% because these brook trout are lightening fast! This is native brook trout fishing at its finest.
For more pictures you can check out Marks blog FishingSmallStreams.blogspot.com